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OK, baseball fans, maybe it’s time we yield to the forces of football for September of 2018. The football season got started in strong fashion last weekend in the college ranks, with not only UMD but Minnesota - you remember, the Gophers - got off to a winning start, and there were upsets galore around the rest of the country.
And the Vikings are primed and ready, we’re told, to start the regular season. They got rid of their kicker and kept the rookie, who promptly missed a medium-distance field goal, then glanced one in off the right upright. I figure if he’d missed that one, the Vikings would have been scouring the waiver wire for another placekicker.
Kirk Cousins didn’t take the field in Exhibition Game 4, but has been declared ready to go, if not to have great camaraderie with his purple minions yet. Meanwhile, third stringer Kyle Sloter continued to make a strong case for helping the QB situation. Not only did he play well again, but he wound up 30-for-41 in exhgibitions for 236 yards and four touchdowns, plus one rushing.
While all that was going on, UMD hammered Minot 49-3 and opens the home season Saturday against MSU-Moorhead at 6 p.m., the second major home athletic event this week after the UMD volleyball team faces Bemidji State at AMSOIL Arena Thursday night.
Meanwhile, interim coach George Penree sets out to eliminate the “interim” from his title when Saint Scholastica opens its season at 1 p.m. at Mayville State, North Dakota. The Saints are loaded, in my humble estimation, and stand as good a chance at winning their Division III title as UMD has at winning the D-II NSIC.
St. Scholastica is at Mayville State this Saturday, then on the road again, at Crown, next week. The Saints finally come home to play on Sept. 22, when they face conference favorite Westmnster of Missouri at Public Schools Stadium. That will be a game to not miss.
“We’ve got 14 seniors, and we’ve had a really good camp,” said Penree, who stepped in to a solid returning nucleus. “We’ve got quarterback Zach Edwards back as a junior, and we’ve got some good wide receivers for him to throw to, starting with Aaron Olson of Esko.”
Penree also has a couple more promising newcomers for receivers, in Devante Bates, who was the South Arizona player of the year last season, and has shown his skill in camp. And running backs Jeff LeMay, a junior from Mounds View, and Bryceton Butkiewicz is a freshman from Moose Lake-Willow River.
With that in mind, we can expect more explosiveness from the Saints this fall. One player I’ve been waiting to see is freshman Spencer Ross from Two Harbors, but he won’t be ready for another couple of weeks. He was a virtual touchdown machine for the Agates last season, and I anticipated that wherever he went, we’d be hearing his name on a college team somewhere.
That somewhere turns out to be St. Scholastica, but he also was Penree’s first disappointing bit of news after taking the helm.
“In May, I got a text message with a picture of a dislocated ankle,” Penree said. “Right away I thought, ‘Oh oh!’ Sure enough, the word was that Spencer Ross had dislocated his ankle running the steeplechase in track for Two Harbors. Like any freshman, he’s got to adjust to college football, but he’s a really good player and we’re looking for him to get back up to speed by Week 2 or 3.”
A couple blocks to the east, UMD coach Curt Wiese had the perfect opportunity a coach of a team with three fairly equal quarterbacks could have. The Bulldogs spotted Minot the chance to compete early, moved ahead 20-3 by the end of the first quarter, then buried Minot under a 35-3 halftime barrage.
Sophomore John Larson, getting the starting nod at quarterback, was 9-15 for 133 yards and a touchdown, adding 50 yards of rushing and another TD. Mike Rybarczyk came in and threw another touchdown pass, and all three UMD quarterbacks had played by halftime, so nobody could say the Bulldogs ran up the score.
The NSIC had a crazy opening weekend, with MSU-Mankato hammering Southwest Minnesota State 49-13, and Bemidji State whipping Northern State 38-17, and Winona State outrunning Wayne State 41-28. But Sioux Falls had a narrow escape, 27-24, over Concordia of St. Paul, and St. Cloud State barely slipped past Mary, 14-13.
MSU-Moorhead took the measure of Minnesota-Crookston 34-10, and appeard as ready as they can be to take on UMD at Malosky Stadium.
Twins display curious tactics in tailspin
I can handle the Twins falling apart with so many core players traded away, but it’s hard to tolerate the remaining players getting a chance to make a good impression and behaving as they have.
Go back to last Thursday, when the Twins trailed at Cleveland 5-2 but appeared ready to make a run. Miguel Sano, who had gone through a horrible stretch of 2-for-31 with 13 strikeouts over nine games, came up and socked a home run to lead off the top of the ninth.
That made it 5-3, and after left-hander Brad Hand struck out Max Kepler, Mitch Garver walked, bringing up the tying run for the Twins. Two young prospects I really find impressive came to bat in order. Jake Cave worked the count, then took a called third strike for the second out. Here’s a solid young hitter, with a bat in his hand and the chance to show something, not even swinging at the final slider.
So up came Tyler Austin, a big, strong prospect who looks impressive when there’s no pressure. He, too, works the count, but at 2-and-2, he takes a slider for strike 3. Another prospect, another chance to impress manager Paul Molitor and the Twins players and fans, and he takes strike 3.
I continue to grumble every time I see Joe Mauer take an automatic first strike every time he comes to the plate, which means every time he has ever batted in his long career. But he doesn’t often take a hittable strike 3 when the game is on the line.
Last Thursday, Mauer scored his 1,000th career run, another amazing milestone, leaving him behind only Kirby Puckett’s 1,071 and Harmon Killebrew’s 1,047 runs scored. Mauer, hit only .217 for the last 12 games of August, (10 of 46), but has gone 14 of 44 for the 15 games up through Monday, which is a .318 clip.
Sano, incidentally, was 2-for-34 in his last 10 games before his home run last Thursday, which meant he was hitting .058 in that stretch, even while the Twin Cities media continues to refer to him as a “cornerstone” of the franchise. He rose to .085 for his last 10 by hitting that home run.
Maybe going home won’t be a natural disaster
Amid the best news for Major League baseball in the past week was the new agreement between MLB and the Dominican Republic and Venezuela - where the Twins seem to get most of their prospects. The agreement is that those South American and Central American locations will agree to follow the MLB rules regarding performance enhancing drugs.
It’s absurd that Earvin Santana and Jorge Polanco can go home for a few months in the winter and come back testing positive for drugs in their system that they insist they didn’t know were illegal. It cost Santana half of last season, and it cost Polanco half of this season, potentially threatening both of their promising careers.
Sailboats can brighten your Wednesday dinners
We’ve found a very relaxing bit of therapy on Wednesday afternoons, and that is to head for either Va Bene, or the Boat Club for dinner, and get a table outside and await the sailboats.
The weekly sailboat races run around some sort of course in Lake Superior, just outside the piers, and if the sun is shining, they create a dreamy, soothing form of leaning into the wind and competing around pylons. They won’t go on forever, just as our wonderful Wednesdays won’t go on indefinitely, but while both are working, a bowl of the Boat Club’s clam chowder, with a couple of popovers, on the outside setting, or some pasta at Va Bene, can’t taste any better than on Wednesdays.